Annexing 2,000 acres is not thinking right

Kai Hagen

September 9, 2004

Like many others, I've only recently become aware that the City of Frederick is seriously considering annexing 2,000 acres between Frederick and Walkersville as part of the comprehensive plan to be adopted this month.

The last-minute decision to annex the area, which is not in the current draft of the comprehensive plan, and which could be home to as many as 20,000 new city residents, looks more like a hasty political strategy than good planning. From this point of view, it looks like a race to annex the land before it can be annexed by Walkersville or rezoned and developed by the county.

Such motivation assumes it's inevitable the area will be developed, and that whether Frederick expands toward Walkersville or the other way around, the two cities will merge into one contiguous community with no discernable beginning or end other than a new sign along the side of a busy road.

At the least, moving so quickly precludes sufficient time for adequate or meaningful public participation in a decision with major implications for Frederick, Walkersville and the Monocacy River.

But there is another option that serves the long-term interests of current and future city and county residents.

Frederick County and the cities of Frederick and Walkersville should work together to find an effective way to preserve the area as a "greenbelt." There are many good reasons to establish greenbelts in and around growing metropolitan areas, and there are additional and compelling reasons to do so here.

Among them is the notion of ensuring that Walkersville maintains its identity as a distinct and separate community. If necessary, Frederick can grow inside and outside current city limits without having to connect to or surround neighboring Walkersville.

Beyond that, however, as the county grows, it's increasingly important to set aside ample areas of open space for recreation, and to preserve critical elements of our natural landscape and biological diversity.

For Frederick, that has to include doing more to protect the Monocacy River, which meanders between the city and the land in question, and serves as a natural boundary between Frederick and Walkersville.

The Monocacy River is one of the most important natural features in the county. Yet, one map accompanying a recent article about the possible annexation did not bother to show the under-appreciated river.

Until recently, the Monocacy has avoided a lot of the development pressures that have been changing the landscape of the county. We're fortunate we still have the opportunity to improve the water quality, and to pursue a combination of public and private strategies to protect more of the land along its banks.

When it comes to imagining its future, Frederick may be thinking big in some respects, but annexing and developing a couple thousand acres adjacent to the Monocacy is not thinking big at all. Not surprisingly, the city has a poor track record to date. Directly across the river from the proposed annexation, inadequate and inexcusable city policy has allowed new houses in the Dearbought community to be built so close to the Monocacy that residents could chat with folks in passing canoes.

The City of Frederick's comprehensive plan is organized around five themes. One of them, titled "Balancing Growth," includes "environmental protection." Another, titled "Enhancing the Community," refers to "environmental protection" as a "quality of life" issue. The last one, titled "Interacting with the Region," speaks to the "need to foster interjurisdictional and institutional cooperation, " and includes "environmental protection."

Where is it more sensible to apply such themes, or goals, than to work together to protect the Monocacy River and its banks?

And if that isn't enough, amendments to the comprehensive plan included eight "visions" that "must be implemented through the plan's recommendations." Among these are that "development is concentrated in suitable areas, " that "sensitive areas are protected," that "resource areas are protected," and that "stewardship of the Chesapeake Bay and the land is a universal ethic."

Finally, the plan states that "characteristics that define the City of Frederick's exceptional quality of life include" both "abundant parks and recreation" and "healthy and protected natural resources."

Are these hollow words? Or not?

When I think big, I'm confident there will never come a time when residents of the city and surrounding communities will look around and regret having done too much to protect opens spaces or the Monocacy River.

To get in touch, e-mail Kai Hagen at